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Movie Review: Brothers Bloom

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

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May 14, 2009 – There comes a point when you’ve innovated something as far as it can possibly go, added all that you could conceivably add, discovered all that there was to discover, so that nothing can ever again be new. For the most part, the con-man genre is like this, and if you draw a line back through cinematic history, you can trace the evolution of the double-cross in the most basic of terms. It began with a lie – one character deceiving another in such a way that the audience was in on the scam. And for awhile, the lie was enough. We were content to know exactly where the ball was at any point during the shell game. Whether the target would figure out the con was thrill enough for us. But then we got smarter, wiser, more demanding, and filmmakers delivered the triple-cross, or simply added another element to the con, shuffling around the shells at such a rate and speed that while the audience was aware of the deception, the conclusion was always surprising.

Then came the point at which the characters themselves were no longer sufficient victims. We’d gotten too good at spotting the bait-and-switch, the sleight-of-hand, and so the filmmakers were then forced to con us, the viewers. The story would seemingly end, the con would be revealed, and then, in a surprising twist on the twist, we would discover that somehow, in some way, we had been fooled, the final, unspoken players in the confidence game.

So con movies became clever while audiences became smarter and if we weren’t already a step ahead, we were hardly ever that far behind. Thankfully, Rian Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom injects some desperately needed vigor into this waning genre. The follow-up to Brick, Johnson’s ode to the “film noir” motif, Bloom is filled with first-rate scams, refreshing whimsy and incredibly well-layered performances, yet it aims to be something greater than simply another drop in the con-man bucket. It’s smarter than that, and the con being played upon the audience is that we’re watching a brilliant and thoughtful deconstruction of the genre without really knowing it.

The story of two brothers, Stephen and Bloom (played by Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody, respectively), the film follows their efforts to pull “One Last Con” on a mega-wealthy shut-in, Penelope Stamp (Rachel Weisz). Having shut herself up for years in her sprawling estate, the richest woman on the Eastern Seaboard has become a virtual outcast, studying and learning every craft from every book available to her. Stephen, who writes his cons with all the grace and symbolism of classic literature, is clearly in love with his work, both storyteller and character all at once, while Bloom seeks to lead what Stephen refers to as “an unwritten life.”

And it’s this basic premise – the ability to lead a life un-scripted by family or fate – that makes The Brothers Bloom perhaps the most entertaining and dare we say important con movie of the last several years, delivering consistently on all levels. Of course, Penelope quickly transcends the title of victim to join in on a bigger con – and it’s to Johnson’s credit that we’re never quite certain if the brothers are still playing her, if Stephen is playing Bloom, if somebody else is playing all of them, or if they’re all actually being honest with one another.

Johnson takes a sizeable step forward as a director with this film, which feels almost 180-degrees away from the dark, brooding tone of Brick. This is a colorful movie, full of grand sequences and vibrant set pieces. It moves quickly and freely, embracing a never-too-quirky sense of style that makes the story feel more in the vein of a Wes Anderson film – most especially the opening prologue. The banter is quick and smart and poignant, and each actor rises effortlessly to their character.

It’s likely that audiences have yet to see the uber-dramatic Ruffalo in a role quite this light, and while Stephen certainly passes through his fair share of drama throughout the film, Ruffalo shows a side of himself that’s considerably less intense and vastly more accessible than his more gruff, tortured roles. His relationship with Brody, his brother, is wonderfully complex – full of love and loathing – and, in turn, Brody’s relationship with Weisz is breezily romantic. And yet, each of these pairings are obscured by the constant presense of “the con” and we’re never fully able to trust our footing in any given situation.

There is no excessively self-clever ending to Bloom – the film simply isn’t as concerned with executing the perfect con as it is with watching it fall apart – and somewhere in between the drama and comedy, the whimsy and the tragedy, the idea of the “unwritten life” is ever-present. The Brothers Bloom will undoubtedly have a place among the better, if not the best, films about con-men, but it’s also a film about family and trust and the limits of both. Do yourself a favor and give yourself over to the shell game because it doesn’t matter where the ball turns up, so much as that you played at all.

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Movie Review: Star Trek

Thursday, May 7th, 2009

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Read the Star Trek review courtesy of Jay Stone of

J.J. Abrams’ re-invention of the venerable sci-fi saga presents the origins of Kirk (Chris Pine), Spock (Zachary Quinto) and the rest of a familiar cast. It’s a nice, unpretentious adventure that will delight the fans. Even those who know nothing about the franchise except the phrase “Beam me up, Scotty” may find themselves turning into late-stage Trekkies.

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg

Rating: four stars out of five

People who enjoy science fiction say that it helps illuminate the human condition, to which I reply: If you want to illuminate the human condition, turn on the light in the bedroom.

I’m not sure what we’re supposed to have learned, for instance, from all the “I’m your father, Luke” business in Star Wars. Except that if you go into dad’s line of work, you’re going to want to kill him sometimes, and if you wanted to know that, you could just have asked anyone in a family business.

Which is another reason to enjoy Star Trek, a movie version of the venerable sci-fi saga that touches on several universal themes — fathers and sons, sons and mothers, Romulans and Vulcans — without getting all illuminate-the-human-condition about it.

I’m not sure how faithful it is to the many Star Trek movies and TV shows that preceded it, because I’ve never seen one: everything I know about Star Trek (“Live long and prosper,” and “Phasers on stun”) I picked up vicariously from the cultural ozone.

When the engineer named Scotty (Simon Pegg) says, “I’m giving it all she’s got, captain,” the resulting audience laughter lets you know that this is another Trekkie phrase, cheered for its familiarity.

Star Trek is very much like that, but even for us newcomers — people who have been living under rocks, as opposed to those who have been living in their parents’ basements — it’s nevertheless an adventure with lots of high technology, high spirits and a low sense of self-importance. There are no papier-mache rocks falling on Captain Kirk, but there’s enough papier-mache dialogue to ensure he’s in constant, if cartoonish, peril.

The movie begins with a Superman-like origins story: a father on a dying planet (or in this case, a crashing vessel) sends his only son to Earth to become the hellraising Capt. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine, winner of the Christian Slater sound-alike contest), who is on his way to becoming the Capt. Kirk we know and love. Pine is no William Shatner, but give him 40 years and a few good meals, and he might make it.

We also learn about the origins of Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes), a half-Vulcan, half-human whom we meet reciting things like “four-thirds pi times radius cubed,” an early sign of his logic-based genius. Spock, who does things with his eyebrows that we haven’t seen since Theda Bara went into retirement, will grow up to be Leonard Nimoy, who makes a featured appearance in the film — much cheering and laughter — as his future self.

This is the sort of thing that could drive more ambitious space movies to a doctoral thesis on the time-space continuum, but in Star Trek, it’s just another wacky bit of interstellar life: phasers on fun!

The plot has Kirk stowing away on the USS Enterprise, captained by Bruce Greenwood, as it speeds into space and a confrontation with a long, stringy spaceship under the control of Nero (Eric Bana), a Romulan with facial tattoos and a murderous disposition: he looks like someone who got lost on the way to Mad Max.

Nero is out to get Spock because of something he did to Romulus, or maybe it was Remus. In any event, he’s set on blowing up planets by pouring “the red matter” into their cores, creating a black hole.

There are several large explosions and lots of fights on narrow platforms that have no railings — the cosmos is not a friendly place for older people — and a nice turn by Pegg, who brings a comic sensibility that pulls Trek a degree or two toward self-parody, although not too far (the formula, I believe, is four-thirds pi times radius cubed.)

Every time I see one of these space epics, I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks plan to do a satire that would be called Intergalactic Mishigas. There’s a bit of that in Star Trek, but not too much: director J.J. Abrams has found a balance between excitement and knowingness. Beam me up, Scotty, and give it all she’s got.

Movie Review: Crank 2: High Voltage

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

Crank 2: High Voltage Movie Posters

“He’s strong to the finish, ’cause he eats his spinach…”

Usually the above jingle would culminate, naturally, with: “He’s Popeye the sailor man!” But it comes to mind when discussing the highly entertaining Crank High Voltage not only because of the film’s overtly cartoonish approach, but also for its main character’s constant reliance on an external energy source in order to get the job done. Of course, whereas our favorite cockeyed sailor only needed a can of green vegetables in order to pummel Bluto, High Voltage’s Chev Chelios requires something a bit more modern — namely electricity, and lots of it.

That’s somehow appropriate given the videogame and pop-culture influences of the Crank series. The first film also starred Jason Statham as Chelios, a hitman looking to retire who has the craziest day of his life when he’s poisoned by a rival and must keep his adrenaline flowing in order to stay alive long enough to find his “killers.” Or at least, that was his craziest day before this sequel kicked in, which picks up at the exact moment of the first film’s final moments when Chelios plummeted from a helicopter and crashed to the street below — and seemingly survived.

As High Voltage begins, a band of Triad gangsters make off with Chelios’ unconscious body and quickly perform some makeshift open-heart surgery in the back of a massage parlor. The super-heart of Chelios is removed, apparently for its intrinsic value, and replaced with a mechanical pumper that has a very limited lifespan. Three months pass, and Chelios finally makes his escape from these villains when he realizes that his captors are planning on harvesting the rest of his organs — including his “horse c@$k.”

So the superhuman Chelios must find his heart, but he soon realizes that he has to keep his artificial ticker powered up in order to continue the sprinting, fighting, and killing that takes place almost nonstop over the course of the film’s hour-and-a-half running time. That leads to the electricity previously mentioned, which is derived from all manner of sources — tasers, car batteries, power plants, and so on. It also leads to the over-the-top cartoonishness of it all, as any semblance of reality is drained from the film like a car that’s had its headlights on all night.

And let’s take a moment to thank writer-directors Brian Taylor and Mark Neveldine for not feeling the urge to keep these proceedings “real” at all, because that’s what makes the film so much fun and separates it from the typically mechanical and repetitious action genre. We’ve got a whole summer’s worth of that junk coming at us soon enough, thank you very much.

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Movie Review: State of Play

Saturday, April 18th, 2009

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Based on the BBC miniseries of the same name, State of Play is as much an elegiac swan song to print journalism as it is a gripping political thriller. But State of Play is more than just a paean or whodunit; it is really about moral compromises. The story — scripted by Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton), Matthew Carnahan (Lions for Lambs) and Billy Ray (Breach) — follows overweight, slovenly but dogged Washington Globe investigative reporter Cal McAffrey (Russell Crowe) as he discovers that a string of seemingly unrelated murders are all connected.

Worse, the unfolding case embroils his old college pal, Congressman Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), in a sex-and-murder scandal that threatens to extinguish his once-promising political career. Is Collins the killer of his staff member and mistress Sonia Baker (Maria Thayer), or is PointCorp. — the private military company that Collins has been investigating in televised congressional hearings — really behind it? The closer that Cal and his partner, blogger and aspiring “serious” journalist Della Frye (Rachel McAdams), get to finding out the truth behind Sonia’s slaying the more dangerous it gets for them and their already imperiled newspaper as cops, power brokers, spin doctors and soldiers of fortune all come gunning for them.

Every character in State of Play is compromised to varying degrees: Cal is too close to Stephen to understand how much he’s blurred the lines between media and politics, and his friendship with Stephen’s wife Anne (Robin Wright Penn) may also be closer than it seems; Collins’ moral shortcomings are obvious from the plot synopsis, with his idealism being stronger than his integrity; Della comes from a new breed of reporter (“bloodsuckers and bloggers,” as the film calls them) who are more important in being “first!” than in being good at what they do; and Globe Editor in Chief Cameron Lynne (Helen Mirren) seems to be losing the battle between balancing her journalistic principles with the commercial necessities of keeping her paper’s owners happy. No one comes off looking too heroic or clean in State of Play, a gutsy move on the part of a major studio production to keep it real.

The cast is excellent across the board. Crowe owns the movie as the slobby but sly reporter who relies on old-fashioned tools such as notepads, door-to-door interviews and schmoozing all the right people (mostly cops) who can supply him with information. This could be the movie that makes audiences fall in love with Crowe again after a spell of flops and bad publicity. Affleck gives his best performance in years (if not ever) as Collins, although the nearly unanimous opinion among those who have seen the film is that it’s simply unbelievable to buy fortysomething Crowe and thirtysomething Affleck as former college roommates. One line change (e.g., Cal worked on Stephen’s campaign or was his T.A. in college or grad school) could have dispelled that entirely justifiable criticism. It also doesn’t help that Penn is closer to Crowe’s age than Affleck’s (all three characters knew each other in college). Penn plays Anne’s wounded pride well in a disappointingly small role.

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Movie Review: I Love You, Man

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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Paul Rudd is hilariously in the this bromance comedy about a dork that just wants to fit in, but try as he may – he always gets it wrong.

In I Love You, Man, which is by far the best Judd Apatow comedy that Judd Apatow had nothing at all to do with, Paul Rudd gives a startlingly funny and original performance as a nice guy with serious dweebish tendencies, and the delight of what Rudd does here comes down to how exquisitely embarrassing he is to watch. He makes you wince in hilarity. Rudd, in films like Role Models and Wet Hot American Summer, has been a wiseass par excellence, and maybe it took a wiseass to play a dork with this much merciless understanding. His Peter Klaven is an L.A. real estate agent (he’s selling Lou Ferrigno’s mansion) who has just gotten engaged, an event that forces him to confront the fact that he has no male friends. Who will be his groomsmen? His best man?

That sounds like a fairly mild predicament to hang a movie on, but the resonant joke of 
I Love You, Man is that the reason Peter has no pals is that he’s too sweetly sincere, too in touch with his sensitive side, to indulge in 
the gloriously insensitive modes of male bonding: the reckless sex chatter and sports talk, the need to be a guy, a dude. Peter meets 
 Sydney (Jason Segel), who seems like natural buddy material, and the two begin to hang out. But the more Peter tries to get down with his masculine self, the more our jaws drop at how bad he is at it. He does agonizingly out-of-date SNL routines as if they signified he was ”in the know,” he says things like ”me slappa da bass” in a ”reggae” accent, and when his new friend nicknames him Pistol, he names him back — and sounds like a complete idiot jackass.

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Movie Review: The Haunting in Connecticut

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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The filmmakers of the latest haunted house flick, The Haunting in Connecticut actually finds a way to make the sound effects sound and feel scary and the actors do a good job as well.

The latest horror film “based on a true story” — the facts of which are documented here — The Haunting in Connecticut follows the Campbell family, who move into a Victorian house in upstate Connecticut in order to be closer to where their teenage son receives his cancer treatments.

Matt (played by Kyle Gallner, known to fanboys as Bart “Flash” Allen in Smallville) is slowly dying from the disease. His mom Sara (Virginia Madsen) and recovering alcoholic dad Peter (Martin Donovan) can barely accept this grim reality as they struggle to make ends meet amidst mounting medical bills. Trouble begins almost as soon as the Campbells move into their new home.

Matt is plagued by disturbing visions of a boy not much younger than himself, but he’s reluctant to admit it because he fears the disease has progressed to his brain or that the drugs he’s on aren’t working and he’ll be removed from his clinical trial. Meanwhile, the family discovers an embalming chamber in their home and a collection of creepy photos of corpses, and realize that their new home was a funeral parlor back in the 1920s. Noises, disturbances and other assorted scary incidents mount and the family realize they’re under attack from beyond the grave. The ghostly boy Matt has been seeing is that of Jonah, the clairvoyant son of the former funeral home owner, who acts as a gateway for the dead to cross over into the realm of the living.

I’ve been watching a slew of ghost movies and supernatural films lately, and even the best of them aren’t really all that terrifying so much as they are creepy and disturbing or a collection of amusement park “scares.” The haunted house movie, in particular, has been done to death; if there’s one thing they’ve taught us, it’s the bigger the house and the more remote its location then the worse your haunting will be. (How come no one is haunted by ghosts when they move into a studio apartment in Van Nuys?) Nowadays, the scariest thing about these big old houses is how much their value has plummeted.

That said, The Haunting in Connecticut is a relatively effective scary movie despite its overall formulaic nature. The actors, sound effects, and ghoulish makeup compensate when the story takes turns into more familiar territory. Sure, we’ve heard creaks and thumps and wooshes and wails in plenty of other ghost movies, but the filmmakers actually find a way here to make them sound scary again. Director Peter Cornwell ratchets up the tension, maintaining a consistent level of chills for the duration of the movie before it ultimately buckles under the weight of its effects-heavy finale.

The film has very human and relatable characters at its core — a family that was already in peril due to the terminal illness of a family member — that keeps the viewer engaged in the story even as things grow more fantastical.

Click here to read the entire review on IGN.

Movie Review: Duplicity

Friday, March 20th, 2009

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Julia Roberts and Clive Own shine in Duplicity, which debut in theaters this weekend.

If you’re going to see one Julia Roberts movie this year…

Well, it should be this one. Not that Roberts necessarily has a bunch of other pictures on her slate for 2009, but let’s face it: The actress, once the darling of Hollywood who burst onto the scene with the charmer Mystic Pizza some 21 years ago, has gotten a little long in the tooth in recent times. Maybe it was that grueling Oscar acceptance speech for Erin Brockovich, or perhaps it was just a case of audiences getting too much of a good thing, but for some of us the once and future Pretty Woman hasn’t been as welcome a sight lately as she once was.

Now she’s jumping back into the spotlight after a bit of a hiatus, but fortunately for us — and for the superstar actress too perhaps — she’s doing it in style by teaming with writer-director Tony Gilroy on the espionage comedy Duplicity, which opens this weekend. Coming off the success of 2007’s Oscar nominated Michael Clayton as he is, Gilroy was poised with this follow-up to perhaps suffer from the classic sophomore slump syndrome. But he’s dodged that bullet as deftly as one of his Duplicity characters might outsmart a fellow corporate spy, and Roberts and her costar Clive Owen both come out looking like champs as a result.

Owen plays Ray Koval and Roberts is Claire Stenwick, MI6 and CIA agents respectively who first bump into one another — and bump uglies — in 2003 in Dubai, upon which Claire promptly outsmarts, drugs, and steals some precious documents from her counterpart. It’s spy-love at first sight, and through a series of interweaving flashbacks (and occasional flash-forwards) Gilroy slowly pieces together for the audience how Ray and Claire got from there to here.

Here being present-day Manhattan, where they’ve both entered the private sector of the espionage business, working for opposing cosmetics manufacturers who guard their lotion and cream secrets as vigorously as a government does its nuclear launch codes. Ray works for Paul Giamatti’s angry upstart exec and Claire is on the team of Tom Wilkinson’s old-guard boss across town, though as the film proceeds and the weaving plot reveals more and more about what has happened since that fateful time in Dubai in 2003, the question of who is working for who becomes increasingly confusing. The only thing we seem to know for sure is that Giamatti and Wilkinson hate each other fiercely, a fact which is illustrated in a loving slow-motion ballet during the opening credits.

Ultimately the labyrinthine plot is only secondary anyway to the movie-star turns by the, as it happens, movie stars in residence, Owen and Roberts. The real star, which gives the two their power of course, is Gilroy’s snappy, screwball-comedy-esque dialogue and scripting. It has its leads sparring with one another as much as — if not more than — they’re speaking sweet nothings to each other. As a matter of fact, it may be that the closest they get to sweet nothings is the duo’s constant threats to walk out on one another. Either that or Roberts’ propensity for taking her underwear off. .

Click Here to read the entire article on IGN.

Movie Review: Friday the 13th (2009)

Friday, February 13th, 2009

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This Friday the 13th reboot is definitely a hit. Read the review:

When news of a Friday the 13th remake hit the Internet, there was a massive outcry from genre fans. One contingent wanted to preserve the integrity of the old series, while the other asked, “Why does the world need another Jason movie?” The truth of the matter is, Friday the 13th needed a remake more than any other existing horror franchise. Although Jason Voorhees is an iconic horror figure, the previous 11 films never settled on one specific identity for the character. Rather, each new creative team that tackled the character handled him differently, resulting in a dude with a serious identity crisis.

Fear not, however, as this “reboot” solidifies once and for all just who Jason is: a motivated killer with speed, strength, vision and a revenge streak that runs blackheart-deep. By firming up the details of his origin, establishing some supernatural elements (Hint: Jason is always really, really hard to kill.), and lending purpose to his body-mangling rampages, the film establishes firm ground for the character’s mythos and makes him much scarier as a result.

The team of producers Andrew Form and Brad Fuller and director Marcus Nispel, who combined to make the excellent Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, know what it takes to modernize and distill an iconic series down to its key elements. Here, they hone the character but keep the dark, playful spirit of the originals. Fans will instantly recognize and settle into the tone — a wild, horrific ride that’s meant to entertain.

The film does a good job of compressing Jason’s mythology from the original four Friday the 13th films into a short time frame. Recapping/retelling the events of the original film takes no more than five minutes, and immediately audiences are clued into why Jason grows into a bloodthirsty creature of legend. He grows up quick and by the time the opening credits roll, he has already decimated one group of campers with his trademark machete. As the film progresses, we get a much deeper sense of the Jason character. He has created a lair of sorts and lives off the land. This is a much craftier Jason and much more human, which helps to ground the story.

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Movie Review: Taken

Friday, January 30th, 2009

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Taken is awesome revenge thriller starring Liam Neeson. Read the review:

Taken, a revenge action-thriller from Transporter producer Luc Besson and District B13 director Pierre Morel, follows Bryan Mills (Liam Neeson), a former special ops agent who is out to rescue his kidnapped daughter in France.

Describing his former line of work overseas as that of a “preventer,” Bryan now resides in L.A. in order to re-connect with his teenage daughter Kim (Maggie Grace), who lives in a mansion with Bryan’s shrewish ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) and her wealthy new husband (Xander Berkeley). Kim wants to be a singer when she grows up, so Bryan uses his side job protecting a Christina Aguilera-like pop diva (Holly Valance) to make connections. There’s nothing he wouldn’t do for Kim — except allow his underage daughter to take a European trip with her girlfriend Amanda (Katie Cassidy).

The ever security-minded Bryan fears the trip is too dangerous for two young American girls to take, but he finally relents in order to win Kim’s approval. Quicker than you can say “father knows best,” Kim and Amanda are set-up and kidnapped by a group of Albanian sex traffickers operating in Paris. Calling upon his former skill set, Bryan travels overseas to find and rescue Kim. He knows that if she’s not located within four days then odds are she’ll never be found at all.

What follows is a bone-crunching, bullet-riddled journey where Bryan uses his martial arts prowess, intelligence gathering skills, and outright torture to find his daughter, leaving a wake of destruction behind him as he runs afoul of both old allies in French intelligence and the Parisian underworld.

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Movie Review: The Curious Case Benjamin Button

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

Curious Case of Benjamin Button

One of the remarkable things about The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is the films ability to resonate with every audience, yound and old.

Here’s the beautiful thing about film: Movies speak differently to different people. That’s a simple truth. And what a film truly means — which is to say, what one takes away from it — can change and evolve and grow along with its audience. We bring into every theater our age, our experience, our successes and failures, our joys and our longings. We sit in the dark, gazing at the screen, subject only to ourselves. This is the very same reason why a movie which sparks a flame in some people ultimately fails to find its tinder with others. Yet it’s this remarkable quality that makes The Curious Case of Benjamin Button such an achievement — that it is capable of speaking to every audience, young and old, and that while its message will be vastly different for grandchild and grandfather, it will only ever age, backward or forward, as we do.

And the concept is simple — that Benjamin Button begins life as an old man and ends life as a child. Whoever said that we enter the world weeping and weak and bald and in diapers, and leave it the very same way, spoke to one of the underlining truths of Benjamin Button, a philosophy heightened by the love story at the film’s center. Born as a shriveled infant — eyes blind, joints swollen — Benjamin (Brad Pitt) is abandoned by his father, Thomas Button, on the doorstep of an old-folks home and taken in by Queenie, an African-American nurse. Slowly, Benjamin takes on the frame of a man well into his ’80s. In a departure from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original story, Benjamin has only the mental faculties of a child, growing into a kind of mental adulthood as his body knits itself back into boyhood.

When Benjamin first meets Daisy (Cate Blanchett), she’s perhaps 10 years old to Benjamin’s 70, but it’s a meeting of children nonetheless. It’s also the start of a love story that develops slowly, and eloquently, over the course of decades. The film itself spans the entire course of Benjamin’s life, following his “childhood” spent in the home to his “adolescence” spent at sea with Captain Mike, following the currents directly into the events of World War II and home once again, back into the company of Daisy. It’s not a complicated film, just a broad one and its magic is simply in the depth of Benjamin’s point of view. Though he thinks and behaves and acts contrary to his own physical appearance, Benjamin allows the audience to apply their own understandings of life to the journey. Certainly, introspective twentysomethings will find a vastly different meaning in the film than those older and closer to death, but there’s honest, moving and emotional meaning to be found there by both… and in plenty.

This is in large part attributable to the absolute triumph of director David Fincher, whose visual mastery and unsentimental approach never spoon-feeds the audience or over-sweetens the narrative. As with any life, there’s equal parts suffering and celebration, and Fincher treats this inevitability fairly and with respect. One never feels forced into a particular emotion, which, given the premise, might easily have been the case with a lesser director. Rather, he applies his painterly eye for framing and his expert understanding of visual effects to tell a story which allows the audience to take from it whatever they will, offering much yet giving nothing. And that neither Fincher nor writer Eric Roth wink too heavily or acknowledge too overtly the magic realism of the premise allows for the audience to do the same.

Many an effects-person has long said that if an audience fails to notice the illusion, they’ve done the job to their own satisfaction, and if such is the barometer for success, then Benjamin Button boasts perhaps the finest use of visual effects ever put to film. The aging techniques applied to Pitt throughout the movie virtually disappear into his performance, so seamless and smoothly integrated that beyond some initial sense of admiration, the effect drifts away into the narrative. No doubt, there’s some top-notch CG wizardry on display here, but rarely, if ever, is there a moment when one becomes acutely aware of it.

But none of it works if Benjamin himself doesn’t prove to be somebody with whom the theater is willing to pass a lifetime. Fortunately, Pitt’s performance offers the range of human experience — from the innocent eyes of an 80 year old child to the experienced, world-weary gaze of a teenager who’s been alive almost a century. Pitt creates not only the singular character of Benjamin Button, but various versions of the man glimpsed at a number of points throughout his life. The acting here, while certainly never showy, is expert in its subtlety. And Blanchett does some wonderful work as Benjamin’s counterbalance, providing not only a gut-wrenching visual contrast as the two age beyond one another, but an emotional core, as well. Together, the two have created a love story that says as much about life as it does about love.

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